Kyle Juszczyk happy with role, surroundings after leaving Ravens for 49ers

Kyle Juszczyk happy with role, surroundings after leaving Ravens for 49ers

SANTA CLARA – Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is excited about returning to Baltimore for a weekend visit.

He played his first four NFL seasons with the Ravens, and three years later, he is thankful for the path his career took when he signed with the 49ers as a free agent.

“I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out,” Juszczyk said. “Honestly, I’m just more genuinely happy here. I like my role. I like the work environment better here.

“And it’s been really cool to build from the ground up, whereas when I went to Baltimore, they’d just won a Super Bowl. So I was just adding on to what was already there. Here, I was part of creating that culture, starting from the ground up.”

Many questioned the 49ers at the outset of free agency in 2017 when one of the first moves of the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan regime was to extend a four-year, $21 million contract offer to Juszczyk. The day after he made his verbal commitment, the New York Jets offered him more money.

“We wanted him pretty bad,” Shanahan said. “I think everyone knows that by what we did to go out and get him. I’d say he exceeded expectations because you don’t know the guy totally. He’s been here, and after being with him three years, we can tell now why we liked him so much on tape because he is very talented. But just how automatic he is in all the stuff you ask him to do, just the angles of getting the ‘backers.

“Nothing seems too big for him. Some of the catches he’s made in the pass game, even though he doesn’t get a lot of them, when he does, he’s been real efficient with it and made some big plays for us.”

Juszczyk has earned the NFL’s biggest contract for a fullback during his three seasons with the club. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in both of his first two seasons with the 49ers. The 49ers are one of the few teams that run a lot of two-back personnel groups. Juszczyk is an outstanding lead-blocker who is adept at coming up with big catches when he can exploit matchups.

His weekly paychecks are not the only reason he feels fortunate to be with Shanahan and the 49ers.

“I love the way he runs the team,” Juszczyk said. “I feel like he has such a good understanding of what it’s like to be a player. Little stuff, like scheduling and our nutrition and just the way we practice. It’s little things like that, day-in and day-out.”

Juszczyk even raved about the food in the team cafeteria as “off the charts.”

He said, “Every day, they have something great. It’s whatever they got.”

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After struggling through two seasons with 6-10 and 4-12 records, Juszczyk said he believes part of the reason for this season’s turnaround has been the ownership the players have in making sure the 49ers are successful.

“Kyle’s extremely open to input from players,” Juszczyk said. “I feel like he wants that. He gets excited when that happens. We really didn’t have a lot of opportunity for that in Baltimore.”

Juszczyk referenced the yearly change at offensive coordinator during his time with the Ravens. In four seasons, he worked under coordinators Jim Caldwell, Gary Kubiak, Marc Trestman and Marty Mornhinweg.

“There’s been more stability here,” he said. “When I went there, we had a different offensive coordinator every season, and we were always starting over on offense. So here, since I’ve gotten here, we’ve had the same staff, so it’s been good to have that continuity.”

Chiefs' Anthony Hitchens says he didn't pick on 49ers' George Kittle at Iowa


Chiefs' Anthony Hitchens says he didn't pick on 49ers' George Kittle at Iowa

MIAMI – George Kittle can’t wait to put a hit into Anthony Hitchens during Super Bowl LIV. The 49ers tight end is a tenacious run blocker, and loves going head’s up against defenders while clearing a path in the 49ers run game.

The Kansas City Chiefs weakside linebacker apparently has a target on his back. Kittle has his sights set on Hitchens after he picked on him with both guys played at the University of Iowa. Kittle said Hitchens bullied him a bit – it was a lighthearted accusation – during practices.

Hitchens doesn’t remember it exactly that way, and says they’ll have a fun rivalry going on during Sunday’s Super Bowl.

I was just doing my job,” Hitchens said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. “It was nothing crazy or out of the ordinary. We have the same agent and we stay in contact. He’s a good guy and an excellent player who works really hard. I’m looking forward to going up against him.

“I did back at Iowa. I definitely wouldn’t say I was bullying him in practice. But life can be rough sometimes. when you’re 180 pounds playing tight end in the Big Ten.”

Kittle isn’t 180 pounds anymore. He’s 249 now, and comes with a nasty streak.

While Kittle has grown physically and as a player since the 49ers made him a fifth-round NFL draft pick out of Iowa, Hitchens says he saw great potential in Kittle when they were Hawkeyes.

Oh definitely. When you run routes like he can from the tight end position, you’re going to be special. Only a couple of guys in the league can do what he does. We have a guy like that in Travis Kelce. They have one with George. All that receiving talent, plus his great ability to block, that’s hard to do in this league.

“He was running great routes and beating guys as a freshman. I knew then that he had great potential. He matched that with hard work and a great mindset and he has fun with it. That’s what makes him so unique.”

49ers' Emmanuel Sanders thinks Ben Roethlisberger 'bridge is burnt'


49ers' Emmanuel Sanders thinks Ben Roethlisberger 'bridge is burnt'

Emmanuel Sanders has one game left with the 49ers before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and he said he would welcome a reunion with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Sanders told The Athletic's Ed Bouchette on Monday that he'd be able to envision himself re-joining the Steelers after Super Bowl LIV -- if he still had a relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

“I would love that, but me and Ben don’t have the best relationship," Sanders told Bouchette. "I believe that bridge is burnt.”

Sanders signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos in 2014, linking up with legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. During his first training camp, Sanders said Manning was a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger, knocking Roethlisberger's work ethic while praising Manning's. The 32-year-old receiver admitted to Bouchette that he thinks Roethlisberger "has grown up a lot" since their acrimonious time together. 

Roethlisberger, 37, has said he intends to play in 2020. The Steelers might soon have an eye to the future at the position, but Roethlisberger's presence as Pittsburgh's starting QB seemingly would scuttle any chance of a reunion in the Steel City.

Though Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games with the 49ers this season after being acquired in a midseason trade, San Francisco faces an offseason of contract dilemmas that could preclude the receiver returning. Tight end George Kittle and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner are eligible for contract extensions, while safety Jimmie Ward and D-lineman Arik Armstead can become unrestricted free agents.

Kittle and Buckner's extensions are priorities, and the 49ers likely will make the pair two of the highest-paid players at their respective positions. Salary-cap realities might force the 49ers' hand, especially with young receivers on rookie contracts like Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd -- who missed the entirety of the 2019 season with a back injury -- and Dante Pettis waiting in the wings.

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Still, Sanders told Bouchette he has enjoyed his short time as a 49er. If Sunday's Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs marks his last game with the team before free agency, he wants to go out in style. 

“I couldn’t hope for a better situation than to end up with Niners,” Sanders said. “But at the same time, there was pressure too because they were undefeated (at the time of the trade) and I didn’t want to be the reason they don’t go undefeated. It feels good to know I was able to make the necessary plays when they called my number and help get to the Super Bowl. Now we have to win it.”